1825 College Avenue. In May 1997, it was simply an address. But Church of the Resurrection had signed a lease and moved in, choosing to call it home. At that time, clergy and staff coordinated pastoral care using a beeper. Father William Beasley sent memos on sheets of paper bearing the heading “Memo.” The subject line had no check box to indicate that it had been opened and read. Three years before the millennium, the church’s whole ministry functioned using two computers.
More than all that though, the dark clouds of a church split loomed. Resurrection’s first gathering at 1825 College Avenue was a “solemn assembly” for the sole purpose of trying to ward off those clouds. About 150 people “gathered in an impossible situation,” Father Stewart recalled. Everyone brought chairs from home so they would have something to sit on. “It was one of the most difficult moments in our church,” Stewart said. Resurrection was in “full-bore survival mode.”
Fifteen years later, on September 19, 2012, about twice as many people gathered to celebrate all that the Ministry Center had become. Just a few open chairs remained. In most rows, people sat shoulder to shoulder. Father Stewart talked about Resurrection’s darkest days, the days when 1825 College Avenue first came into Resurrection’s story. This was RezFast 2012, and it was the farewell service for the Ministry Center. It seemed fitting to close this chapter in our history with a RezFast, because it was meeting together for fasting and prayer that had inaugurated the building in 1997.
That handful of members in 1997 persevered. “Let’s fast and pray,” Stewart recalled them saying to one another. “Let’s see what God might do.” For their first year in the ministry center, that’s what happened—a year of RezFasts. Together, they pleaded with God: “Remember who you made Resurrection to be, and revive her in our generation.”
Lisa Traylor started attending just a few years earlier, around 1995. By 1997, after the split, the Ministry Center lived up to its name, ministering to those who remained. “It was sort of a circling of the wagons,” she said, “The space was small so we were able to see everyone together. We were able to see each other and say, ‘Oh you stuck around!’ and that was encouraging.”
Steve Williamson was a college student when he first came to Rez in 1999, and he saw the same small gathering of people. For him too, the Ministry Center provided an intimate setting that brought the whole church together. He recalled how Father Stewart, during Holy Communion, would invite the whole congregation to surround the altar. For Williamson, who joined the staff in 2005, the Ministry Center “represents the history of Resurrection in a lot of ways—both of difficult times and of rebuilding.”
Today, with growing anticipation for a new building at 935 W Union Avenue, a fondness remains for the old dining hall-turned-Chapel. The building formerly housed Scripture Press, a publisher of Christian literature. Today, the building is owned by Wheaton College and home to a number of mostly not-for-profit businesses: Repeat Boutique, World Relief, Church Building Consultants, Re:new. Having neighbors like these has shaped Rez too. “We’ve seen a lot of confused people wandering through here,” Williamson said, laughing. “It’s brought us into contact with a lot of refugees and homeless people, and that’s really a part of who Rez is.”
Part of the fondness for the Ministry Center has been its weird-uncle characteristics. “I have to be honest,” Steve admitted, “It is a very frustrating space. The acoustics are weird in there. And you have the entrance in a really awkward place where everyone sees you when you walk in.”
Renovations over the years have sought to address some of the Ministry Center’s awkwardness. “Wheaton College has been really generous in letting us do some work in the building,” Steve said. But renovations created new awkwardness as well. Church of the Resurrection actually has two offices, the “Wheaton offices” and the “Glen Ellyn suite” as Williamson called it. Having offices in two cities “was a nightmare for administrators,” Traylor explained. She would know; she served as an administrator at Rez for six years.
“It was a space that was not ideal,” Steve admitted, “but the church still grew. . . . A lot of prayer went into that space. I think the general sense is a great deal of thankfulness for all the Lord has done in that space.”
At RezFast 2012, Father Stewart picked up on this sense of thankfulness in his homily on Psalm 95, noting three major themes in the Venite: thanksgiving, awe of God, and trust in him.
Afterward, Stewart opened the floor for anyone to share their experiences in the Ministry center. For Nancy Kreuzer, a previous RezFast had been pivotal in her own life—a sentiment many others echoed. In 2005, Nancy came to a RezFast in the Ministry Center and was introduced to Rez for the first time. “I hadn’t prayed once in my life,” Nancy recalled. “But I decided to trust the Lord, and,” she pointed to the back of the room, “it was right back there.”
Like Nancy, others took vulnerable risks and new steps of faith in this building. As the Ministry Center had begun, so it continued—with prayer. Claire Masters recalled “an evening prayer that Fr. Rudi led,” spotting him in the audience.
Jeff and Kimberly Pelletier shared their own very personal and also very public journey—struggling through the loss of their firstborn baby boy and through some difficult years of marriage. God separately called each of them to make Rez their home. It was only later that they realized that the night God had spoken to them was during a RezFast service where people were praying for God to bring people to Resurrection who needed his healing in their lives. Three years later they have a beautiful daughter. Jeff concluded, “I’m just so grateful for these red chairs,” a tangible reminder of the how their lives were renewed by ministry that happened in this space.
For many, Redeemed Lives is the ministry most closely tied to the Ministry Center. At the same time, the Ministry Center has brought new life in other ways as well. It has been a “seedbed” for new ministries like The Greenhouse. Jennifer Spacek’s husband, Jim, was an accountant for Rez for about ten years. Together they witnessed what Jennifer called “miracles going on with the money.” Seeing those miracles gave the Spacek’s faith enough to step out and start the Greenhouse. And for a time, the Ministry Center incubated that ministry, providing the Spacek’s with room to bring the ministry to life.
For Margie Fawcett, who has led the Redeemed Lives ministry throughout its tenure on College Avenue, the Ministry Center was a seedbed of another kind. Margie observed, RL was “a seedbed of serious dating action.” She shrugged matter-of-factly. All the people wanting to get married seemed to find the right person at RL.
In his homily, Father Stewart recalled the words of a then-church elder and 80-year-old man named Bob Walker When Rez was simply praying to survive, Bob was envisioning a building. But Bob said, “A building will come when we learn to pray and learn to reach out to the lost.”
Now with the reality of a building upon us, Stewart called the transition “bittersweet”—“grieving what I’ve lost to get what I’ve wanted. . . . That’s how it works in a healthy transition.” Resurrection’s arrival in the Ministry Center was not bittersweet, but by God’s grace, our transition to 935 W Union Avenue will be.
For Steve Williamson and many others, some of the “bittersweetness” comes in remembering John Fawcett, Williamson’s predecessor in leading worship at Rez. It seems as though something of him will remain in this place. Fawcett’s legacy is unquestionably large and still very present. Many of his musical settings, including his Sanctus, the “Lord’s Prayer,” and “Agnus Dei” are part of Resurrection’s liturgy every week. With them, Fawcett’s impact will continue to reverberate in the new building.
Sharing her own thoughts later, Stewart’s wife, Katherine, affirmed, “They are bittersweet memories. But I’m excited because we’re gonna make new memories like that and with new people.”
Before the final Eucharist in the Ministry Center, Fr. William Beasley—Fr. Stewart’s predecessor as Rector of Church of the Resurrection—closed the sharing time and summed up many of the contrasting experiences of the space by saying, “We’ve laughed together, wept together, and through it all the Lord has been faithful.”
For the final Holy Communion, the congregation left their seats and surrounded the altar. Then they spread throughout the Chapel, praying and laying hands on the walls and floors to take with them all the sacred moments that this place has collected—the thousands of services held there, the moments of new risks, the prayers, the people, and the new births. After those prayers, the altar and the cross were removed from the sanctuary, and the ministry center was secularized for future use.
When the blessing was spoken and the last hymn was sung, the gathered were dismissed. Above the chattering voices, Keith Hartsell called for everyone to pick up their folding chairs, collapse them down, and stack them along the back wall. Before the week is over, 1825 College Avenue will once again be an empty space awaiting new tenants and a new lease. Once, when Church of the Resurrection fasted and prayed, God transformed an empty space into an altar for his glory. And for us now, a new empty space awaits.
Story by Adam Graber
Photos by Mark McIntyre